Given that the manner of Celtic’s domestic treble triumph last year was unprecedented in Scottish football history, Brendan Rodgers’ squad find themselves being measured against the most exacting standards this season.
But, having set that “Invincible” benchmark, their 2017-18 campaign will be regarded as a let down if they are unable to create more history by becoming the first side ever to win back-to-back trebles.
That’s the blunt assessment of ex-Celtic and Morton forward Andy Ritchie, who will be a keen observer as his former clubs face each other in Saturday’s William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final at Parkhead.
“I would say that anything less than the domestic treble this season for Celtic would be looked upon as failure,” claimed Ritchie.
“Brendan took the bar at Celtic last season and raised it way up there. There have been other managers who have come in and won the treble but no-one has done it as emphatically as Celtic did last season. So that is where the bar has now been set for them.
“I don’t know whether Brendan gets paid two, three or four million pounds but, when the people who matter at Celtic sit down and look back on the season, if there is no domestic treble then it will be looked upon as a failure.
“Brendan knows it’s going to be hard to achieve it again. In a funny way, he was probably delighted when they finally lost to a Scottish team for the first time against Hearts back in December, to take that bit of pressure off them in a sense.
“It’s started again and I have no doubt it has affected them. For me, they haven’t played really well since the winter break. It’s taking a bit of time to get some momentum again but Sunday’s win at Aberdeen will have helped a bit.
“Morton are the next obstacle standing in their way of the treble and Saturday’s game is more important to Celtic, there’s no doubt about that. Morton get a free hit at this one, as they have had in the previous big games when they have done well. Jim Duffy will have them organised, they will be well put together and he’ll have them up for the match.
“That said, Celtic have to play badly and Morton need to play well. That’s the kind of day it’s going to have to be for Morton to come away with a result, and that maybe means a replay as well.
“I would have loved the game to have been at Cappielow. It would tighten it all up. Although, if you look at Morton’s away record this year, maybe Jim is happy enough to be going to Celtic Park.”
Morton lost 3-0 at Celtic at the same stage of the Scottish Cup two years ago but do cherish the still relatively recent memory of a shock victory in the east end of Glasgow in the League Cup in September 2013.
“They have a chance, there is always a chance,” added Ritchie. “You don’t have to go back too far for when Morton shocked them at Celtic Park in that League Cup tie. I was at the Scottish Cup game in 2016 and Celtic won that one reasonably comfortably.
“But Morton were a very young side then, which was their undoing. I remember Tom O’Ware giving away the first goal cheaply but he is a better player now and Morton are a better side all round. They haven’t let themselves down when they have played Premiership teams, although I think they might have done a bit better in the League Cup semi-final against Aberdeen last season and I know Jim was also disappointed not to get draw against Rangers at Ibrox when they lost 2-1 there in the Scottish Cup fifth round.
“The key for Morton is that they don’t freeze at Celtic Park. They did for an hour against Aberdeen at Hampden and it let them down a bit.
“I remember coming to Hampden to play with Morton in the semi-final of the League Cup against Aberdeen in 1979 and somebody said to me before the game they were worried we would freeze. I’m thinking ‘What you talking about? It’s a great day coming here in the semi-final of the cup with 25,000 of your own fans travelling up on the day.’ Yet I froze that day. We froze as a team. To this day, I don’t understand why. It wasn’t until the last 20 minutes we started competing. I hit the post, scored a penalty but we lost 2-1 when we should have got a draw. If we had got a draw we’d have beaten them in the replay. That was the only day in all my time at Morton when I felt, individually and collectively, we didn’t do ourselves justice. But Jim Duffy is a wise old owl and he’ll make sure that doesn’t happen on Saturday.”
l Andy Ritchie was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.